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TIPS: Finding the right tools for social impact measurement

Updated: Jun 17

‘How can we realistically and effectively measure social impact without being overwhelmed/without it taking too much of our time? - especially when you are small / new impact startup”.

This is probably one of the most recurrent questions impact startups have been asking us over the years.

A common limitation we witness with social impact measurement methods for startups is that they are often approached mainly from the investment and/or PR angles.

Attracting investors and creating solid visibility are absolutely vital for the startups’ growth. But measuring impact goes deeper than that.

Social impact measurement is also and, in our view, primarily about assessing and bolstering the ‘positive change(s)’ we can make.

But defining ‘positive change’ is not an easy task. The term ‘positive’ is subjective – and so is the notion of ‘change’. The definition and understanding of these concepts vary according to cultures, contexts, startups’ objectives, diverging interests, perceptions etc. Yet, this is what social impact measurement is all about – understanding which changes are needed, desired, feasible, evidenced, and ensuring that our actions logically lead to these changes.

There are plenty of tools and methods out there, but many (if not most of them) can appear quite complex and overwhelming. Some focus more on attracting donors and investors. Others seek to create visibility with simple (often shinny) key messages that speak to the public. It can therefore be quite challenging for small early-stage startups to find the right methods, and many feel discouraged by the process.

It is important to identify the tools and methods that can help us monitor how products/processes/programs impact (positively or negatively) the social, economic, and environmental dynamics in a specific context.

Here are a few elements of reflection:

  1. Social impact measurement is not just about investment and PR – It is much deeper than that.

  2. Some social impact measurement approaches – especially those primarily focused on funding and PR – often limit themselves to the ‘output’ level, i.e. they only measure what they can immediately see and quantify, e.g. numbers of people reached, number of activities, and other quantitative indicators that are usually easy to assess. They often fail to capture the ‘outcome’ level, i.e. to define, measure and monitor actual changes in a practical way. SDG targets and indicators, on the other hand, may appear too broad, ‘distant’ and impossible to measure for small startups. It is therefore important to identify intermediary outcome indicators that are practical, measurable, tangible and that can truly capture an evolution process.

  3. Startups cannot define change (and therefore impact) on their own. Impact surveys with users/communities/ecosystem stakeholders are fundamental. Startups’ own definitions of ‘positive change’ or ‘impact’ are likely to contain many assumptions that will ultimately skew the measurement process – especially if the context where the change is supposed to take place is culturally and/or geographically distant from the startups.

  4. Startups must be able to identify practical and user-friendly tools that they can easily integrate into their annual growth strategies and that truly capture the logical continuum or linkage between activities, immediate results, longer-term changes, and ultimate impact. Simplified theories of change models provide a great start to capture this analytical process. They can easily be incorporated into the startups’ strategic plans and can help build a good foundation for social impact measurement.

For templates of simplified theories of change, contact us!


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